Douglas Adams died in May of 2001. We’ve held Towel Day on May 25th ever since, to honor his memory. And not just for his literary contributions, either.
Adams was the author of the influential HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, a sci-fi satire trilogy consisting of at least five books, depending on how you count them. It started as a radio show, actually, and eventually became a miniseries, a mediocre star-studded movie, and a video game.
H2G2 is about a hapless ape descendant, Arthur Dent, on his trip across the galaxy after Earth is destroyed to make room for a hyperspace bypass. Adams embraces the concept of “everything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and in the least convenient way.”
I love this series and I’ve read the first one at least a dozen times. It’s stuffed with dry humor and lots of really good one-liners. But the plot is really interesting too, once you see past the silliness. I don’t really think that was intentional.
The picture H2G2 paints about galactic hitchhiking culture lends itself really well to references and jokes in pop culture. The hitchhikers have their own vocab, their own ethics, their own philosophies – just like a Fringe Hiker. They accept that life isn’t going to be easy. It’s just the cost of a great adventure: a cost they’re more than willing to pay.
The most useful item a hitchhiker can have is a towel. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say about the towel:
A towel is just about the most massively useful thing any interstellar Hitchhiker can carry. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course you can dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase which has passed into hitch hiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.”
So carry your towel proudly today and let everyone see you’re someone who knows where your towel is.